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Published: Friday, 5/15/2009

Dragging it out

CITY Council took a step in the right direction this week when it voted to speed up negotiations between Toledo and the union representing the city's police officers. Now it's up to stubborn union leaders to recognize that dragging out the process likely will only hurt the officers themselves.

When council members voted 8-2 to skip fact-finding and go directly to binding arbitration in stalled contract talks, they put the Toledo Police Patrolman's Association on notice, in the words of council President Mark Sobczak, that council believes "the longer we wait, the worse the corrections to balance this out."

The initial response from Patrolman's boss Dan Wagner, who said he didn't "understand what the big hurry is now," was, in a word, infuriating.

The "big hurry," as Mr. Wagner well knows, is the looming $21 million budget deficit that grows every day it isn't resolved. The "big hurry" is that at its current pace, a new police contract might not be in place for months, reducing the savings from any wage and benefit concessions it contains and increasing the likelihood that more city employees, including police, will have to be laid off.

Even so, the union strategy is obvious: drag out negotiations so most of its members - those who haven't been laid off, that is - continue to draw pay and benefits at current levels. This is union sandbagging at its worst, putting the Patrolman's Association well on its way to becoming the shame of Toledo's labor movement.

Having said that, we reiterate that we honor the difficult and dangerous service police officers perform for Toledoans every day, and we take no pleasure in the prospect of layoffs in their ranks.

But throwing up roadblocks to a speedy resolution to protect some of their members in the short term, or in the false hope that the economy will look better next month, the month after that, or in six months, is unconscionable. It hurts the city, it hurts taxpayers, and it will hurt police in the long run.

Nobody is asking the police to roll over for Mayor Carty Finkbeiner. Union officials have a responsibility to seek the best deal they can get for their members, but that deal has to be in the context of Toledo's financial situation, which is only made worse by protracted negotiations.

If council, which has strong union ties, has finally come to that conclusion, then it's time for the police union - as well as unions representing other city workers - to follow suit.

It doesn't take a detective to know that it would be a crime not to come to an agreement soon.

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